{Mommy Journal} Our Current Top Five Picture Books

Both our moms taught us to LOVE books, so Andrew and I were determined to make them a big part of our children’s lives. :) We are so thrilled that our little Monkey absolutely adores being read to. I thought I would share some of our current favorites that may be a little more obscure. It’s hard to narrow it down, but here are our current Top Five. These are affiliate links to Amazon. :)

All the Places to Love by Patricia McLachlan

Brought to you by the author of Sarah, Plain and Tall! This was a favorite of mine growing up, and it just so happens that the little boy’s name is Eli, so now it is even more dear to me! The paintings in this book are truly stunning and the nostalgic tone with which it is written might bring a tear to your eye. It does to mine, but I’m not even two months postpartum. ;) Caleb is completely enraptured by the pictures!


Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton

This author has several cute books, and this is Andrew’s and Caleb’s favorite. The fun plot and quirky illustrations make it a hit, especially for boys!

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

This title is just plain cute and heart-warming. Caleb loves to point out silly things in the peculiar illustrations, and I enjoy reading it in exactly the way that the narrator did when we had it on tape growing up. ;)

Lentil by Robert McCloskey

Robert McCloskey is one of my all-time favorite authors, so be sure to check out his many other picture and chapter books! His black-and-white drawings are full of sweet details and great facial expressions. Lentil is Caleb’s favorite of our McCloskey collection: the story of a little boy who can’t pucker his lips to whistle, but can play a harmonica…and how that skill saves the day!


Paddington by Michael Bond

I love this picture book version of one of my favorite chapter book characters, and Caleb requests it often. The pictures are darling and it is well-written, so it’s fun for a grownup to read. Sometimes I practice my poor British accent for added interest. ;)

Next on my list to purchase is Nine for California...yet another favorite from my childhood! What’s the current favorite picture book in your home?

Natural Beauty & Hygiene Products for Pregnancy

TeaTreeOilConcealerWhen I learned I was pregnant, I immediately stopped using a lot of mainstream products and replacing them with organic or more natural alternatives. In my mind, due to hormone imbalances and some small but present health concerns, I was a pretty good candidate for problems. If simple lifestyle adjustments had even the slightest chance of helping our baby’s wellbeing, I wanted to make them!

I usually only wear mascara, but I cut that completely for the first trimester. I have stayed 100% pain-med or other medication-free for the duration of pregnancy thus far, and replaced all moisturizers with coconut oil or Booda Butter. I thought I’d share three affordable products that I’ve discovered and been pleased with.

Note: be sure to do your own research to decide what ingredients, etc. you are comfortable using during pregnancy. 

NaturOli Shampoo – This shampoo has been wonderful! I don’t use any conditioner with it and I have far less frizz than I’ve ever had in my life, without a straightener or product. It doesn’t have any scent, which I miss, but it does the job and I can go 2-3 days without washing my hair if I want to. I’m about halfway through the bottle after almost six months, so it’s not as expensive as it seems.

Body Shop Tea Tree Concealer – When I finally resigned myself to the fact that acne would be my friend at least until baby arrives, I set out to find a harmless, natural concealer for my poor chin. This stuff is amazing! It goes on really well, especially with a light coconut oil base, and stays all day, and best of all, many of the ingredients are also recommended remedies for acne, so I don’t feel like I’m exacerbating the issue by using this. Multiple shades available!

Organic Island Deodorant – For being organic and harmless, this stuff works really well, and that’s coming from someone with a huge perspiration issue. Because of the coconut oil, I often have to run hot water over this for a few seconds to soften before applying. If I’m going to wear a black or sleeveless top, I try to let it “set” before I put on the shirt, as it does tend to rub off onto my clothes. (Comes out easily with a wet cloth though.) I have to apply it twice a day for it to stay effective, but I had to do that with other deodorants, too, and it is definitely better than nothing and so much safer than all the aluminum and chemical-filled options out there!

What I Read in March/April

Well, thank goodness for my book review job, where I get paid to read several hours a week. Without that, my reading goal would have gone to pot over the past month, between moving, new job, and pregnancy sickness. Here’s what I read in March and April.

In March, I read the middle grade book A Cup of Cold Water: The Compassion of Nurse Edith Cavell. Obviously it was an easy, breezy read. I also read the very small Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow by R.C. Sproul, which was short and fundamental but excellent. Beyond that, I’ve read the following books for my review job:

Passion: How Christ’s final day changes your every day (excellent)
The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (favorite!)
A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships (could take it or leave it)
The Intolerance of Tolerance (academic in nature but definitely helpful)

I won’t be reviewing those here since I was paid to read them, but I do have to say that The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung is hands down the best book I’ve read in the past two years, jam-packed with Scripture and brimming with hope and biblical exhortation. READ IT.

On my own, I’m almost finished with Stepping Heavenward, have a few chapters left in Trusting God, and am about 25% through the massive Bonhoeffer. You can expect to see a shift in my reading choices toward baby and parenting related materials shortly! =)


From Lazy Reader to Book Worm

Photo courtesy of elizabethannedesigns.com.

Photo courtesy of elizabethannedesigns.com.

Five weeks into my 2014 reading challenge (forty-seven to go, haha…check back with me next month) and I’m having a blast. I thought I’d offer some encouragement and tips to anyone else who wants to read but finds it a difficult discipline. I’ve been there for, oh, the last six years or so. Here are a few things that have helped me leave the lazy reader behind and start working toward becoming a book worm.

1. Make a list of what you want to read.

If you know ahead of time what you’d like to read, and you’ve even written it down, you won’t waste time in between books.

2. Get lost in several books simultaneously, preferably of varying genres or depth levels.

I wasn’t always in the mood for Paul David Tripp last month, and that was okay. I could take up I Will Carry You or Creative Counterpart instead and carry on with Tripp another day, without “losing” those opportune moments.

3. Choose to make reading your new go-to leisure activity.

I’m picking up my phone a lot less and grabbing a book a lot more these days. If I have ten spare minutes in between commitments, I squeeze in a chapter instead of scrolling Facebook.

4. Tell your friends about what you’re reading and encourage them to do the same!

Selena and I have formed an unofficial book club of two, and it’s motivating both of us to read more. You could also have a formal accountability partner if you’re really struggling.

5. Use Good Reads.

This is a great, free system for tracking what you’ve read, what you’d like to read, and what you’re currently reading. You can also create a reading challenge for yourself, and as you complete books, your challenge completion percentage will increase. Talk about incentive!

6. Watch for Kindle deals and use your library system and friends’ bookshelves.

You don’t have to pay list price for everything you pick up. I watch Amazon’s Monthly Kindle Deals for savings, buy their books used, and borrow from the library or a friend when I can.

7. Mark up those pages. 

I find that highlighting a book helps me get more out of it and remember more when I’m finished, and provides me with an easy way to go back to what I appreciated afterward. This makes reading feel more worthwhile and also makes writing book reviews less painful.

8. Remember that man’s words never trump God’s Word.

What we read, including devotional books, should never replace consistent time directly in the Bible. This is for many reasons, one of them being that if we are not in the Word regularly, we will lose our ability to discern truth from error in the books we read. We must make the Bible the standard against which we measure everything else we take in.

In conclusion…

If you’re someone who, like me, has wanted to read more but simply hasn’t made it happen, I hope some of these tips will help you carve out the time. Remember to keep reading in balance with the rest of life. Even a good thing can become an idol when we let it grow too important or cop an attitude when we can’t have it.

Happy reading! =)

A Christmas Puzzle (And Other Traditions)


Christmas is only 44 days away and I can hardly wait. If you missed my advent book, family holiday movies, and children’s Christmas story recommendations, be sure to check them out. It’s never too early to start planning ahead for jolly family memories.

We have a few Christmas traditions coming up, many of which are adopted from things our families did when we were growing up. Some of my favorites:

1. We build this puzzle together and eat chocolate chip cookies. I usually contribute about ten pieces and Andrew does the other four hundred and ninety. Consider picking a Christmas puzzle to bring out every December!

2. We go to a U-cut farm and pick the perfect Christmas tree. We give him a name (past names are Stanley, Burton Guster, and Maurice) and drink hot cocoa while we decorate him.

3. We put on pajamas and drive around to look at Christmas lights.

4. We watch Elf and as many of the Christmas movies referenced above as possible.

There are others, but those are a few of my favorites. I’m so excited to be hand making several Christmas gifts this year, too. Nothing like getting crafty around the holidays! I may ban Andrew from my blog for a few weeks and post how his gift turns out. =)

44 days…

{Reading Report} Christmas in My Heart and Advent Stories


When I shared my favorite Christmas stories, I left one collection out because I couldn’t remember its title. I checked with my mom and she reminded me that I was thinking of the Christmas in My Heart series compiled by Joe Wheeler. Our family had the first four books, and we read many stories out of them every December. Most were old-fashioned and all that I remember were wholesome. Some are sad, many happy, and others humorous. Length varied from two to six pages or so. There are true accounts as well as fictional tales, but every one takes place during Christmastime. Listening to these stories read aloud is one of my favorite holiday memories. I was excited to see that they have many volumes that I have never read–I look forward to enjoying them with our kids one day.


Also, as long as I’m at it, our family really enjoyed Jotham’s Journey and Bartholomew’s Passage, two Advent story books that have a very short chapter for each day leading up to Christmas. Set in Jesus’ time, these books are designed to bring cliff-hanger endings to the end of every chapter, which left me and my brothers begging my dad to keep reading. I don’t remember him giving in once. I also recall a few descriptions deemed too graphic for our little ears, as well as a minor amount of theology-correction that needed to take place after reading. But all-in-all, these books were a great way to recognize advent as a family and I hope to one day pick them up with our kids as well.

6 Christmas Classics for the Family


Have I ever mentioned how much I love Christmas? In case you missed my favorite holiday children’s books, catch them here. I also love watching Christmas movies throughout December.  Here are my favorites, in order. =)

Seasons of the Heart

A mother who hasn’t gotten over the loss of her two daughters is less than thrilled about the opportunity to look after an orphan boy. But her husband embraces the presence of a child in their home and wants to give him the love he’s missing so desperately. Set in the pioneer era, this story is both touching and humorous. It can be watched all year round, but due to the Christmas festivities toward the end of the movie, we always watched it at Christmas time.

The Christmas Shoes

514W8CBYS6L (1)We stumbled across this movie just a few years back and I loved it immediately. Get your box of tissues out, It contrasts two people. One, a man caught up in work and the commercial life, and the other, a young boy who just wants to make his dying mother happy. Their paths cross on Christmas Eve in a memorable and moving encounter.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Three words: it’s a classic.

A Christmas Carol: The Musical


Another classic that my family watched annually, my grandma owned a black-and-white version that I love. There are tons of versions on Amazon but I couldn’t find the one I grew up on. However, I’ve recently fallen in love with this musical rendition since being in the show myself last Christmas. The music is gorgeous, but some scenes would be scary/creepy for small children.

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Watch it for the kids…you may even find it cute and funny as a grown-up. I do. =)

Arthur Christmas

91vb-8yq3WL._SL1500_Andrew and I watched this for the first time last year and we both really liked it. Andrew actually laughed, which is quite something for him. (Usually I have to look at him to know if he thinks something is funny because he just smiles.) Anyway…Arthur Christmas was entertaining and cute and I can’t wait to watch it again this year!

{Reading Report} When I Don’t Desire God


Several months ago I promised to post about When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight For Joy by John Piper (available on Kindle for $6.99). This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It opened my eyes in new ways to what it means to be a follower of Jesus and how to pursue a relationship with Him and delight in Who He is. If you struggle with wanting to desire God and His ways but feeling stuck in a carnal mindset, I’d encourage you to pick up this book. You won’t regret it. If you only read one chapter, I recommend “Fighting for Joy Like a Justified Sinner: Learning the Secret of Gutsy Guilt”. My very favorite quotes are in bold.

“Conversion is the creation of new desires, not just new duties; new delights, not just new deeds; new treasures, not just new tasks.”

“Our hungerings and thirstings after God and Jesus Christ and after holiness can’t be too great for the value of these things, for they are things of infinite value.” – Jonathan Edwards

“The key to endurance in the cause of self-sacrificing love is not heroic willpower, but deep, unshakable confidence that the joy we have tasted in fellowship with Christ will not disappoint us in death.”

“Christ will be glorified in the world when Christians are so satisfied in Him that they let goods and kindred go and lay down their lives for others in mercy, missions, and, if necessary, martyrdom. He will be magnified most amont the nations when, at the moment Christians lose everything on earth, they say, ‘To live is Christ, to die is gain’ (Phil. 1:21).”

“Not to see and savor Christ is an insult to the beauty and worth of His character. Preferring anything above Christ is the very essence of sin. It must be fought.”

“When Jesus said, ‘If you love Me, you will keep My commandments’ (John 14:15), He was describing the effect of love, not the essence of love.”

“Believing means trusting Jesus not only as our all-sovereign Lord and all-sufficient Savior, but also as our all-surpassing Treasure.”

“Fight for joy, not by doing things that establish your identity with God, but by becoming what your identity already is with God in Christ. Become what you are.”

“The great gospel weapon in the fight for joy is the rock-solid reality that we are counted righteous in Christ by faith alone.”

“This is what we must learn to do in our darkness–even the darkness we have brought on ourselves because of our sin. Yes, I am under the gloom of failure. Yes, God has put me here in His displeasure. But no, I am not abandoned, and God is not against me. He is for me. Even in the darkness that He imposes, He will sustain me. He will not let me go. Though He slay me, He will save me.”

“Through the cross, God purchased and secured every possible blessing that could ever be needed to make us happy forever…God will–signed in blood–give us all things with Christ, because of the death of His son. That is, He will give us all things that are truly good for us. We must preach this to ourselves every day, because Satan is preaching the opposite.”

“The key to praying with power is to become the kind of persons who do not use God for our ends but are utterly devoted to being used for His ends.”

“The goal of brokenhearted repentance is the blessing of humble, Christ-exalting joy.”

“The plants of spontaneous communion grow in the well-tended garden of disciplined Bible-reading and memorization…The plants of ceaseless prayer grow in the garden of persistent discipline.”

Some of the oher books I’m reading or hope to start soon:


Family Classics for the Summer


Looking for new (to you) entertainment that’s clean and wholesome but quality? Sometimes it’s fun to return to classics from decades gone by. Here are five old but good movies you should watch with your family this summer. This list is in no particular order. [Please use discernment  and discretion with your individual children, circumstances, convictions, and preferences.] Note that there are multiple versions of many of these films, so I have linked to the ones I like.

1. Sergeant York (1941)

The telling of a down-home Tennessee boy who was drafted during World War I, this true account offers a heartwarming blend of history, character, love, and humor. Young Alvin York went from being a pacifist who was more than content hunting turkeys in the woods, to one of the most gifted sharpshooters in the US army. His story is both gripping and inspirational.

2. Flipper (1963)

I grew up watching this summer classic every year with my family in our cool daylight basement. What’s not to love about a blond-haired, barefoot boy and his pet dolphin?

3. A Tale of Two Cities (1980)

When two men of identical appearance cross paths in a chance meeting, neither one can imagine with what radical permanence they will impact one another’s lives. The French Revoluiton is anything but a light subject of entertainment, but this movie is definitely worth a watch. Charles Dickens’ masterful novel is brought to life (albeit not perfectly) in a heart-wrenching but powerful couple of hours. [Due to the traumatic nature of the French Revolution I recommend this film for children ages 13 and up.]

4. Captains Courageous (1937)

Based on Rudyard Kipling’s book, I’m predicting that even the gruffest of viewers may sense a tear or two lurking by the time this classic tale from sea wraps up.

5. Little Lord Fauntleroy [VHS] (1980)

When a young boy from the streets of New York learns he is heir to his wealthy grandfather’s fortune, the rich but stingy old man and generous, exuberant child collide in this delightful classic.